A ‘Legend’ in Crisis: The Debate Over Plato’s Politics, 1930–1960

In: Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek and Roman Political Thought
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From the early 1930s to the early 1960s many scholars, whether liberalminded or socialist ideologues, Marxist or scientific positivists, classical scholars or political theorists and historians, have shown a widespread consensus in discrediting and assailing the man and political philosopher Plato. Such an extensive assault led the ‘Platonic Legend’ to an unprecedented crisis. Philosophically, it was a reaction to the undisguised Platonolatry coming from Oxford and the school of the British Idealists. Ideologically, the appropriation of Plato by Nazi apologists fostered further this vehement indictment. But a lot of other causes worked to the same effect. The general anguish and humanistic anxiety on the eve ofWorldWar II and the postwar traumas led scholars to reconsider the meaning of history and historicism, the psychology of the masses and the ethical responsibility of the citizen, the role of propaganda and state education. Such complementary elements converged in sustained anti-Platonic polemics, which in turn provoked a vigorous defence. Here an attempt is made to offer a preliminary survey of this complex debate and to provide a general intellectual framework in terms of which that controversy can be further explored.

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